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Trump Speaks With GOP Leaders From Camp David; Trump: Everything I've Done Is 100 Percent Proper. Aired 12-1p ET
Aired January 6, 2018 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome this Saturday. We want to take you straight to Camp David. There is the president of the United States.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: -- Camp David, a very special place. We started as you know yesterday afternoon. We had a couple of incredible meetings.
(PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SPEECH)
WHITFIELD: All right, a variety of things coming from the president of the United States there at Camp David meeting with much of the GOP leadership on the Hill.
[12:20:04] We heard from the vice president as well, Mitch McConnell, majority leader in the Senate as well as House Speaker Paul Ryan.
All right. So, let's dissect some of what we heard because it was a lot. Joining me right now, CNN White House correspondent, Abby Phillip, Asha Rangappa, a CNN legal and national security analyst, Michael Zeldin, a CNN legal analyst and former special assistant to Robert Mueller, CNN political analyst, Amie Parnes, and CNN senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter. All right, good to see all of you.
The president there talking about everything from defending his mental state in light of the "Fire and Fury." He was being asked if all of this was on the table today, from security, infrastructure, military funding, the budget, DACA, why would the president tweet this morning trying to defend his mental stability?
And he said he felt the need to do so because he's been to a number of great schools and he's been very -- he's made billions, made lots of money in business, and now it meant that he ran for the presidency once and actually got it.
So, Michael, let me begin with you on, you know, the litany of questions and how the president tried to justify defending his mental stability and also talking about there's no collusion, that the Russia investigation -- there's nothing to it. That he's been an open book all along. What did you see coming out of the president today at Camp David?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I would have liked in that last question for him to say yes, categorically, I will testify under oath before Mueller. He sorts of side stepped that a little bit. I wonder whether that's an evolving legal strategy from that which he started with a few months ago, which is absolutely I'll testify under oath.
Because that's going to be outcome determinative of whether there is obstruction and whether or not there is collusion. So, that was the one takeaway that I sort of shook my head a little bit and said do we see change in the legal strategy.
With respect to his mental state, I really -- I can't tell you how unsettling it is to have a president saying, you know, sort of ala Richard Nixon, I am not a crook, him saying I am smart, I don't think it is becoming of the president and I don't think he should be tweeting those sorts of things.
WHITFIELD: Asha, this ongoing investigation involving Mueller. There are investigations on Capitol Hill. How did the president either offer new material by what he said today, what he didn't say or perhaps is it just more of the same?
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I heard him finally starting to listen to his lawyers to be honest. As Michael pointed out, he didn't say some of the things we want to hear but from a defense point of view, that's a good thing.
When he was asked about whether anyone from his team or he told Sessions not to recuse himself, all he said was everything that I've done is 100 percent proper. So, he's starting to rein himself in to not comment I think substantively the way that he has done repeatedly, particularly on Twitter, in revealing his motives, what he's done, who he talked to, which all create kind of a paper trail. And I think perhaps -- I'm not really sure -- he's maybe starting to learn that less is more.
WHITFIELD: And it's interesting, Amie, because the president then kind of finalizing his moment there in front of reporters saying, you know, I am open and I have been open. And essentially, you know, referencing he has nothing to hide.
And that being underscored by him earlier saying I've done things proper when asked about whether there was any pressure on Jeff Sessions who ultimately would recuse himself. Why did the president in your view feel the need to say that, to use that language of I've done things proper, I do things proper?
AMIE PARNES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I agree with everyone else and what they've been saying. I do think you're seeing a little bit of a controlled -- more controlled statement. I do think that it's interesting, though, to see that he continues to pivot to Hillary Clinton and say that the DNC has colluded with Russia and kind of trying to move away from himself, and saying that he has done nothing wrong.
And the fact that he didn't really say that he would testify before Mueller when this is going to kind of loom over his administration for the next year-plus maybe. I think he needed to, you know, kind of say something about that and to kind of address it because that is going to be.
He thinks that the press has moved on to this book and to other issues which is why he had this bit of a tweet storm this morning. But the fact of the matter is, this is -- this story is going to continue to loom over his White House, and it's going to be a problem for him.
WHITFIELD: And, Abby, does it appear as though the president did use this visit, this retreat, at Camp David, to his advantage, flanked by GOP leadership.
[12:25:07] They, you know, uniformly were praising the president and his upcoming agenda and the president did invite any and all questions and seemed to handle it with confidence and poise.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, especially after a morning in which he seemed to be really letting it all out on social media. This was a relatively reined in performance on his part. He called it bonding at the very beginning. Talking about the sort of feeling of optimism among the Republicans there.
What they wanted to talk about today was the 2018 agenda and about the sense of hopefulness that maybe they might get some Democrats to help them out with their agenda. I mean, this is a president who, as Amy pointed out, is always going to be -- seemed to be dogged by this Russia investigation.
But the counterprogramming and, frankly this is the argument a lot of Republicans and the president's own aides have been making to him. The counterprogramming is the Republican agenda. It's talking about infrastructure.
It's finding a deal on DACA. It's all about that other stuff that seems to always go below the fold, especially when Russia becomes the main topic of conversation and some of these conversations today talking about the electoral prospects for Republicans in 2018.
One of the big agenda items that Republicans on the Hill are presenting to the president is that the agenda ought not to be Donald trump or the Russia investigation but rather the tax cut bill and other sort of economic priorities that they think they can sell to the American people.
WHITFIELD: Brian, while the agenda was the primary focus or we all were led to be the primary focus. Even though he was peppered with a variety of response this morning via tweet, just looking at the clock, he spent more time justifying trying to explain why he went on that Twitter tirade this morning to help underscore his mental fitness and his credentials.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this was a photo op to change the subject. It was an informal press conference. It wasn't scheduled ahead of time, but it was an informal press availability. People were called in at the last minute and able to ask questions.
It's good to see the president taking questions as he's been so inaccessible in recent weeks. But there were some pretty big factual errors in that address. He said he didn't know Michael Wolff, the author. Yes, he has known Michael Wolff for years. He then later acknowledged he was interviewed by Michael Wolff during the campaign.
He says Wolff is a fraud and a fiction. It's clearly a book of nonfiction. I thought there were important factual mistakes later in the Q&A period. He said his poll numbers have gone way up. They have not gone way up. They remain historically low.
He said there's been no collusion, but some experts disagree with him on that. They say yes, there's been at least some collusion that's been shown. There was clearly evidence of a willingness to collude with Russia. We've all seen the Trump Jr. e-mails.
So, he continues to issue these kinds of denials with regards to Russia that don't hold up. I thought the most interesting comment, Fred, was actually about the "New York Times" story. "The New York Times" story from a couple days ago with new evidence that Robert Mueller may have possible obstruction of justice.
The president did not deny that he leaned on Sessions. Instead, he said everything I've done is 100 percent proper. He stuck with that, which is miles away from an actual denial. But I do think, Fred, the visual of this, all the GOP leaders behind President Trump, it was a show of unity moment after several very difficult days for the president.
I think that photo op is going to be important. It's a demonstration that, you know, that GOP leaders in Congress and members of his cabinet are literally standing beside him.
WHITFIELD: Right, because even if it had not been verbalized just pictorially just to see this kind of, you know, unified front, also speaks volumes. All right. Asha Rangappa, Michael Zeldin, Amie Parnes, Brian Stelter, thanks to all of you. Appreciate it. Abby as well. Some of you are going to stay. Some of you are going to go. But we're all one. Thank you.
All right, up next, as President Trump lashes out against that explosive new book about his presidency, the author is saying thank you and where do I send the box of chocolates. Not for the White House access but for the president's insults.
Plus, Attorney General Jeff Sessions getting tough on marijuana and rolling back a series of Obama era regulations. We'll talk to the Colorado attorney general about what Sessions' decision means for her state.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:32:54] FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right, just moments ago, President Trump slamming Michael Wolff, the author of the explosive book "Fire and Fury". Yet again, saying that he is a quote, fraud, and his book is a disgrace, questions now swirling about Wolff's credibility and the impact of the book on the Trump administration.
Joining me once again, CNN political analyst, Amie Parnes and CNN's Brian Stelter and CNN political analyst, Karoun Demirjian, all right, good to see you all.
So Brian, you first, you know, Wolff's credibility is in question after many journalists have criticized his reporting style over the years. And then, some readers are finding some errors in the book from spelling mistakes. I even noticed a couple words that were missing and just kind of have to fill in the blanks, you know, to title mix-ups, they're even named appearances by people who say, it wasn't them that was present. So how does this potentially impact the credibility of not just the author but even the book all together?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. The book does suffer from sloppiness. There are some minor errors and you could say, there's some major errors. You know, when you say that Wilbur Ross was nominated for the wrong department, you know, those are fact checking mistakes that should have been caught ahead of time by the author and by the editor and by the publishing house.
That said, the errors that have been found, although they weaken Wolff's argument, they do not weaken the overarching point of the book, which is --
WHITFIELD: Why is that?
STELTER: -- that the president is not fit for office.
WHITFIELD: And why is that? Because people are making references to the president's exhibited behavior in the past year and even on the campaign trail and some of that is very much in sync with how Wolff is reporting?
STELTER: Right, I would say he's amplifying what's already been reported for the past year. And what people are witnessing with their very own eyes. And when the president goes on a tweet storm about how much of a genius he is, he actually reaffirms the fears that are expressed in this book.
This book all through out the chapters, we can quibble it with particular parts. And I do and others are as well. But the overarching portrait is what many others have described in the past, Wolff instead of whispering it or tiptoeing, he's screaming about the president's fitness for office. And I think that's what obviously triggered the tweets this morning.
[12:35:06] WHITFIELD: And then, Amie, on BBC Radio, Michael Wolff, the author, said the perception of Trump that his book is causing will end the Trump presidency. I mean, quite a declarative statement. Your reaction to that?
AMIE PARNES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he has to say that. I mean ultimately, he's trying to sell his book. And it has done well. But I think, yes, I think I agree with Brian in that. It has kind of highlighted what we all know is that there are major problems, that there are factions inside the west wing that they don't always agreed. In fact, they often don't agree.
And, you know, that there are these figures that are sort of, you know, that not everyone likes the president even and that some people are trying to undermine him and trying to call him things like moron and even worse. And I think that -- I mean that stuff we've all heard throughout this presidency. And I think it's, you know, it is a kind of him screaming in this.
But, you know, it is true. I think a lot of these I do agree that there is a lot of sloppiness in the book. But I think that a lot of these points will, you know, will be indelible and will continue going.
WHITFIELD: And Karoun, you know, Wolff, the author, also said he did what was necessary to get the story. In New York magazine's Gabriel Sherman tweeted, so basically Wolff's approach was to lie in service of getting the truth? Essentially Wolff is the Trump of journalism, breaks rules and norms to win. Talk about a perfect pairing of writer and subject.
So what's your response to that? Is it, you know, at all costs, you get the information? Or is it as Wolff said in, you know, the beginning of his book, he says, you know, he was like the fly on the wall and things just happened.
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, the situation he was in was unique. But the reason that this is problematic is because right now there's kind of a -- there's a general climate of people attacking the press and its credibility.
Granted, newspaper reporters and television reporters are different than people that are writing a book on the president. But just generally speaking, when you're talking about the reporting practice that goes into it is not a situation in which you want to be too loose because if that's a lesson taken and applied to others and other situations it could be extremely problematic. Because right now, so many of us are having to defend the way we do our work.
And which is, you know, which depends on integrity and triple sourcing and making sure you are very straight with people about when you're on the record and off the record and everything nuanced in between because that's how, you know, we maintain our credibility.
So this is a little thing that is happening in a bubble. But unfortunately there's no way to have a bubble in this environment right now. And the more there's a focus on this spat now between Michael Wolff and the president. I mean first of all the more his book sales are going to through the roof. But also the more that this is going to become an example of how everything works and that's going to be challenging for rest of us going forward potentially if people start to say, oh, well, the press breaks the rules all the time.
There already people out there that are want to believe that. And that's not the way most of us do our job. So to create the distinction of this person's book in the way he reported it versus the way that this normally works, I think is still important as we discussed the contents of what he wrote.
WHITFIELD: Well, this book is flying off the shelves. I mean it's a best-seller on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And, you know, Amie that the president was tweeting this morning while he may not have made direct reference to the book, but he did, you know, talk about a number of things that were clearly hitting under his skin.
And here he is at Camp David with primarily GOP leadership. And he was asked in that setting, you know, specifically why tweet about your mental state, given that all this other stuff, you know, that they were talking about is so important. And he said, you know, I went to the best colleges, excellent student, you know, made billions of dollars. And then I ran for president, you know, only once.
So, you know, the president is exhibiting that his image is really important to him. This has gotten under his skin. Even though he was quick to criticize, you know, the author, you know, as being phony and this book being a disgrace.
PARNES: Yes, but you think about -- I mean, I was there to cover at Camp David, to cover President Obama a few years ago. And you think about that setting and you think about the world leaders that come there and what that place means. And you think here's a guy who, you know, is kind of going off message in a major way on the day that he should be meeting with Republican leaders and getting on the same page. And he's not really doing that.
He's actually, you know, going the opposite direction and talking about his mental state and kind of even proving, you know, some people's points. Like I talked to a Republican this morning who was just appalled by this tweet storm this morning and said, here he is meeting with Republican leadership. Can't he just stay off the grid for one day? And, you know, focus on that? And focus on getting on the same page. So that is a problem for him.
WHITFIELD: OK. And then quickly, Brian, but, you know, had he not given the press conference, right? I mean that the president might see that as looking like he's running away. So, perhaps he was sending the message he wants to be out front and he doesn't have anything to hide?
[12:39:59] STELTER: There's been reporting recently that the president wants to speak to the press more often and his aides are holding him back. They're reluctant to have him do so. Maybe they're trying to protect him and help him stay out of his own way. But this visual today, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Mike Pence, other GOP leaders, standing by a man who much of the country believes is not fit for office.
The questions are really not for the president, they're for Ryan, and McConnell and for cabinet officials, they are for GOP senators and congressmen. The questions are for those Republican leaders about why they continue to stand by the president. Have they seen any signs of the illness that Wolff is describing? Have they had any concerns, the way Wolff has seen? Or do they believe Wolff is making it up?
There's enough quotes in this book from on the record sources that we know some people like Steve Bannon are concerned about his health.
WHITFIELD: All right, I'm figuring prominently right behind the president, there is Steve Scalise as well as Kevin McCarthy.
All right, thank you much, Brian Stelter, Karoun Demirjian, Amie Parnes, good to see you all. Happy New Year, by the way. I don't think I said that earlier. Happy New Year. All right, and we'll be right back.
WHITFIELD: All right, hello again, this Saturday. Thanks so much for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
The marijuana industry is reeling after the U.S. Justice Department rolled back Obama era protections for states that have legalized pots. The decision puts those states at odds with the federal government, which still considers pot sales a crime. And critics say it's a costly mistake. Here is Scott McLean.
SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): This is a family company.
ANDY WILLIAMS, CEO, MEDICINE MAN: It is.
MCLEAN: Nine members of your family?
WILLIAMS: Three generations.
(voice-over): Andy Williams owns a growing marijuana enterprise, a business that exists because Colorado legalized pot and because of a handful of Obama era memos.
WILLIAMS: I give him credit. We would not be here without President Obama right now.
[12:45:01] (voice-over): Pot may be legal in Colorado. But federal law puts it in the same category as heroin and LSD. The Obama administration never changed the law. But essentially told Colorado that it would look the other way.
But this week Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote his own memo to U.S. attorneys rescinding those guidelines and putting the multibillion dollar marijuana industry back into an illegal gray area.
WILLIAMS: I had an employee come up to me today worried about her job. I have investors calling. And saying, oh, what's going to happen with our investment.
(voice-over): Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner called the news extremely alarming and accused Sessions of going back on his word. Sessions deputy didn't offer much clarity.
ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: What the attorney general's done is simply to say that the Department of Justice has full discretion to enforce the law.
(voice-over): Those decisions will be left to U.S. attorneys like Colorado's Bob Troyer who promised there would be no changes in enforcement. In conservative leaning Greeley, Colorado, where marijuana dispensaries have been outlawed, Police Chief Jerry Garner is no fan of legal pot. And he likes Sessions law and order approach. But even he is in no rush to crack down.
CHIEF JERRY GARNER, GREELEY, COLORADO POLICE: I've got other things that are more important, quite frankly, for my officers to be doing than chasing this guy down with a joint. I don't have enough time for my officers to be federal drug agents.
CYNTHIA COFFMAN (R), COLORADO ATTORNEY GENERAL: We didn't have any warning that it was coming.
(voice-over): The news came out of the blue for Colorado's Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. For now, she says the status quo will remain but maybe not forever.
COFFMAN: That's true because it's not in the hands of the state attorney general, it's in the hands of the U.S. attorney general.
(voice-over): She's promised to defend the growers and dispensaries that make up Colorado's marijuana industry even in court. But she can't guarantee the outcome.
COFFMAN: These folks didn't go in to business with marijuana lightly. I don't think or without the realization that things could change. But the reality of it is it's still a shock.
(voice-over): Andy Williams agrees. But despite the news, he's not bracing for impact, he's planning for expansion.
WILLIAMS: If you don't have a high-risk tolerance in this industry, you probably shouldn't be in it.
(voice-over): Scott McLean, CNN, Denver, Colorado.
WHITFIELD: All right, so the marijuana industry reported $8 billion in revenue last year. More than a quarter billion of that money came in Colorado alone. So the state has quite a lot to lose potentially if the federal government cracks down hard on recreational pot sales.
Colorado, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman joining me now from Denver to talk about it. A billion dollar industry in 2017, I see the number's $1 billion in revenue in just eight months, the year prior, $1 billion in a ten-month span. So the expansion is there. What's your response to the Justice Department's move to reverse those Obama era, you know, protections?
COFFMAN: Well, it throws Colorado both legally and from a business perspective into a limbo. And it takes away the direction that we had from the previous administration that gave people some guidance and allowed them to do business legally in the State of Colorado. So if there is a great deal of concern understandably about where we go from here.
WHITFIELD: And it is confusing, is it not, because you're talking about the Trump administration, which is a big advocate and proponent of enterprise, of small business. And many in Colorado who have reaped the benefits of the marijuana industry will say aren't you talking about us?
COFFMAN: There's a real tension here that I perceive between the Department of Justice and Attorney General Sessions approach and what the Trump administration has said about state's rights and states who have legalized marijuana and medical marijuana being left to continue under state law. And it leaves us in a quandary in many ways. So we're going to continue business as usual in Colorado.
WHITFIELD: So you'll continue business as usual. But then what about upcoming or potential legal challenges from the federal government? Are your hands tied?
COFFMAN: We just have to wait and see what the next steps are. General Sessions memo has left so much to the discretion of each of the U.S. attorneys and their jurisdictions.
In Colorado, in my conversations with U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer, I don't -- I think he and I are on the same page that we will continue to emphasize the priorities in the Cole memo, the diverse of marijuana out of state, the use of marijuana by minors, the folks who are growing illegally but using the cover of law for their operations. Those will continue to be our priorities here. Until we hear otherwise or until the U.S. attorney says something else.
WHITFIELD: So does that mean that you ignore this most recent federal guideline coming from the attorney general of United States?
[12:50:08] COFFMAN: No, I'm not suggesting that we ignore it. I'm just saying that what has been in place has worked for us in Colorado. We have been focused on those who are operating illegally, the criminals and the cartel activity. And that continues to be where we should be placing our resources, keeping those folks who are not following the law out of our state and out of business.
WHITFIELD: All right, Colorado's Cynthia Coffman, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.
COFFMAN: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: All right, coming up, an accuser of Alabama Senate Candidate Roy Moore says she is devastated after a fire destroys her home. Now, authorities are trying to figure out if they've got an arsonist on their hands.
WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. A woman who accused former Alabama Senate Candidate Roy Moore of sexual harassment is without a home after hers recently burned down. Police in Alabama have launched an arson investigation now after Tina Johnson's home went up in flames this week. CNN Correspondent Kaylee Hartung join me now with more on this. Is there a feeling that there is a connection here?
KAYLEE HARTUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the thing is Tina Johnson and her husband, they were at work on Wednesday morning when their home was completely destroyed by this fire. They say they have lost everything. Johnson saying she has no more than the clothes on her back.
The Etowah County Sheriff's Department is now leading this investigation. And they addressed right off the bat the question you alluded to, that everyone has. Could this be related to the allegation she made of sexual assault against Roy Moore. The sheriff's Department saying quote, the ongoing investigation does not lead us to believe that the fire is any way related to Roy Moore or the allegations made against him.
[12:55:01] Now, that assertion in part able to be made at this point because investigators do say they're speaking with a person of interest. At this point, no warrants have been filed. No challenges either. The Sheriff's Department telling us we will learn more as they do obtain those warrants.
And now, Tina Johnson finds herself emotional, skeptical, trying to pick up the pieces as she spoke with our affiliate WBRC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TINA JOHNSON, ROY MOORE ACCUSER: It's too coincidental to me. But whatever they say, I'll go with. But, you know, right now I'm just so devastated that -- I can't -- I'm devastated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARTUNG: Now, Tina Johnson alleges that Roy Moore sexually assaulted her when she was 28 years old. This was in 1991. He was married at the time. She was leaving a meeting in his office with her mother when she alleges he groped her from behind, this among the many accusations against Moore that he has continued to deny.
And just like many of those accusers of Moore, Tina has faced many critics. But she also now in this moment of need has her supporters. There was a stranger in California, Fred, who started a go fund me account as she learned of this fire to help her rebuild her home. It's already raise $80,000.
WHITFIELD: Wow. That's extraordinary. And you reminded me before the break, Tina Johnson was among those who actually was out there interviewing on various networks including CNN to tell her story about the alleged groping from Roy Moore.
All right, thank you so much, Kaylee Hartung. Appreciate it.
All right, thank you so much. We are on to the next hour. The next hour of the NEWSROOM begins right after this.